Scott Darling unsure of future with Blackhawks as he prepares to hit free agency

Scott Darling unsure of future with Blackhawks as he prepares to hit free agency

Scott Darling is in a tough spot.

The Lemont native has repeatedly expressed how much he enjoys playing for his hometown Blackhawks, but he's also proven that he can handle the responsibilities that comes with being a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

And it's hard to envision a scenario where that happens here in Chicago as he prepares to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1, meaning his days in an Indianhead sweater could be numbered.

During the end-of-the-season press conference Saturday, Darling said he "hasn't really thought about what's going to happen" this summer, but admitted he feels like he's ready to be a full-time starter.

"Yeah, I feel like I've paid my dues as a backup," he said. "And when I've had a chance to play in consecutive games I feel like I've shown that I can do it."

He certainly has.

Darling, 28, had his best — and most consistent — campaign with the Blackhawks in 2016-17, finishing with an 18-5-5 record, a 2.38 goals against average and .924 save percentage, which ranked tied for fourth in the league. He also recorded a pair of shutouts.

It's enough to earn him a big and well-deserved pay raise — something the Blackhawks likely can't afford with (a bargain) $6 million committed to Corey Crawford through 2019-20 — after carrying a $587,500 cap hit the last two years.

"I think that he really did give us some outstanding goaltending this year (and) throughout the years here," Joel Quenneville said of Darling. "I don’t know how it’s all going to play out, but you know that he’s come a long way and progression has been something that he’s ... earned the opportunity to get the next challenge or the next step."

Crawford developed a strong bond with Darling as they shared the crease together for three years, and he had nothing but high remarks to say about his teammate.

"Scott has been great," he said. "He keeps getting better. This year he was unbelievable for us. A big guy who can move (as well as) any guy in the league. He sees the puck well. I don't know what that situation holds, but he was great for us this year."

There will undoubtedly be several teams interested in Darling's services this offseason, with the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars pegged as potential solid fits. Perhaps he's an option for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, too.

But it's still early to tell, and things can change quickly over the next couple months. 

"I don't really know the landscape of the teams," Darling said. "Goalie situations change so much in the summer, so you really can't forecast it. Still got to talk to the Hawks and see what they think. I don't really know yet, so we'll see what happens."

"I'm excited to see how it plays out. But it's going to be a long couple months of waiting."

After Darling's media session concluded, he shooks the hands of a few media members and smiled, saying, "just in case."

Right before that, he was asked to summarize what his journey has been like with the Blackhawks and fought back emotions when describing how special his time in Chicago has been for him.

"If that does happen, I wouldn't change a second of my time in Chicago," Darling said. "It's been bar-none the best three years of my life. Loved every second. They've been so great to me, my teammates, coaching staff, front office, everybody's been amazing. I wouldn't change a minute."

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Avalanche: Scott Darling kept way too busy

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Avalanche: Scott Darling kept way too busy

DENVER – Slow start, so-so middle, meh ending.

That pretty much sums this one up, except for the Quick Hits. So let’s get to the notables from the Blackhawks 4-3 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

What Worked: Scott Darling. In fact, he worked way more than he should have in this one. Darling was bombarded from the start and the Avalanche had way too many quality opportunities against him. Darling faced 51 shots, stopping 47 of them. The backup goaltender didn’t get enough help in this one, and it doesn’t matter if Colorado’s in the basement: they still have enough skill to finish off a few.

What Didn’t Work: The power play. We’re not talking about the one power-play goal the Blackhawks scored, we’re talking about the two shorthanded goals they gave up. Lackadaisical plays led to both, the first a 2-on-1 finished by Matt Duchene and the other a wraparound by Gabriel Landeskog. We understand the Blackhawks aren’t playing for anything but they had to be more attentive on those.

Star of the game: Matt Duchene. You could put Darling in here too, despite the loss. But since we talked about him above let’s talk about Duchene here. He was a big part of the Avalanche comeback, recording a goal and two assists. Duchene also had five of the team’s 51 shots and went 6-for-10 in the faceoff circle.

He Said It: “You want to get up for every game. The playoffs are two games away and you want to play every one like it’s a playoff game just to get our bodies and ourselves amped up and ready for the playoffs. That’s not the way we wanted to start. So let’s regroup, have a better first period – actually all three periods – on Thursday.” Ryan Hartman on finding motivation down the stretch.

By the Numbers:

47 – Stops for Darling, a career high. The 51 shots were also the most the Blackhawks have given up this season. They had given up 44 shots in two games this season (vs. Minnesota on March 12 and vs. Dallas on March 23).

30 – Goals for Artemi Panarin, equaling a career best set last season.

9 – Games Duchene had gone without a point before his three-point night against the Blackhawks.

Blackhawks squander three-goal lead, fall to Avalanche in overtime

Blackhawks squander three-goal lead, fall to Avalanche in overtime

DENVER – Scott Darling didn’t have much time to think on Tuesday night. It was all react, all the time, considering how the Colorado Avalanche came at him consistently, and with quality opportunities.

He just about helped the Blackhawks eke one out. But on their 51st shot of the night, the Avalanche got the winner.

Darling stopped 47 shots and Artemi Panarin scored his 30th goal of the season but the Blackhawks blew a big lead en route to a 4-3 overtime loss to the Avalanche on Tuesday. The Blackhawks had a 3-0 edge midway through this one but the Avalanche scored two short-handed goals on them before the second period ended.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they couldn’t quell the Avalanche in overtime, either.

Erik Johnson scored the overtime winner for the Avalanche. The 51 shots were certainly the most the Blackhawks have given up this season. Couple the quality factor of a lot of those shots, and it proved too much.

“Lot of grade-A opportunities. Scotty kept us in the game. They could’ve easily had a lot more goals than they did,” said Ryan Hartman, who scored his 19th goal of the season. “He got us into overtime but we couldn’t finish for him.”

The Blackhawks were without Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was back in Chicago (he and his wife are expecting another child), and Duncan Keith, who got the night off. That may explain some of the quality shots the Avalanche got against the Blackhawks. Thanks to Darling’s great first period, none of them proved a problem.

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All started well in the second period.

Panarin’s goal with 14 seconds remaining on their first power play gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead 28 seconds into the second. Hartman scored his 19th of the season and Marcus Kruger scored on a breakaway to put the Blackhawks up 3-0.

But the Blackhawks’ next two power plays had more mistakes than opportunities, and the Avalanche took advantage. Matt Duchene finished a 2-on-1 shorthanded effort to cut the Blackhawks’ lead to 3-1 and Gabriel Landeskog’s wraparound shorthanded goal brought the Avalanche to within one.

“We’re playing just OK in that second period and we get a couple of fortunate breaks, go up 3-0, and give up two shorthanded, careless goals that got them back rolling,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Nice play on the third goal and anything can happen after that, but we were very, very loose tonight and didn’t play the way we’d like to.”

The Avalanche continued to pressure the Blackhawks to start the third and they tied it when Mikhail Grigorenko tipped Duchene’s pass up and over Darling.

The Blackhawks have talked about playing well despite these games not meaning anything, but they have done it only in pockets in their last two games. Missing their top defensive pair didn’t help, and the Blackhawks will probably rest a few more guys in the final two regular-season games. Credit the Avalanche, a team that’s been out of the postseason for some time, for pushing the Blackhawks.

There’s not a concern. But there’s definitely a need to play better.

“We’ll move forward,” Quenneville said. “Whether it was the effort, sloppiness, there were some good things. Trying to get a little bit tighter in our responsibilities without the puck, that’s probably the focus.”